Mark Hemingway: Bill Buckley would not vote for Christine O'Donnell

William F. Buckley, the godfather of the modern conservative movement, had some simple advice for what to do on Election Day: Vote for the most conservative candidate that is electable.

Looking ahead to the midterms, the big news out of Delaware is that a Republican might capture the Senate seat formerly held by Vice President Biden. The latest Rasmussen poll shows Rep. Mike Castle, R-Del., is leading the Democratic candidate, Chris Coons, by 11 points.

Republicans also stand a reasonable chance at getting a majority in the Senate, and, if this is to happen, they will have to make inroads into blue states such as Delaware. Castle's victory would mean a lot.

This success, however, is not good enough for some members of the GOP base. Castle is undeniably a liberal Republican, and they would prefer the more conservative candidate challenging him in the primary — the supposed Tea Party candidate, Christine O'Donnell. 

The rub here is that O'Donnell is not electable. The same poll showing Castle with an 11-point lead, shows O'Donnell 11 points behind Coons. 

And unfortunately, the issue of O'Donnell's electability goes way beyond polls. She's run an erratic and dishonest campaign. When she visited The Examiner's offices a few weeks ago, she tried to show me an old poll that had her leading the race. When asked about a more recent poll showing her losing big, she accused the pollster of dishonesty when there was nothing wrong with the poll.

Shortly after her interview with The Examiner, former O'Donnell campaign aides posted an Internet video baselessly alleging that Castle had a gay affair. She rebuked those rumors, but then on radio called Castle “unmanly” and suggested he put his “man pants” back on. Subtle. 

Few would doubt that the Tea Party putting pressure on the GOP to be more conservative hasn't done some good things, but Buckley's caveat about being electable is no small thing. The reason why Buckley emphasized electability is because elections are about governing.

Castle may be a liberal Republican, but that's better than a liberal Democrat. True, Castle has in the past supported cap and trade and other legislation that makes conservatives wince. But he's also a co-sponsor of the bill to repeal Obamacare. Good luck getting a Democratic senator from Delaware to sign on to that.

Tea Party candidate Joe Miller's stunning Republican primary upset over incumbent Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski is the only reason why anyone started mentioning the “E” word in the same sentence as O'Donnell.

But Miller is a combat veteran with a law degree, a great candidate running in a much more conservative state than Delaware. If you think O'Donnell, who has a dodgy employment history, is similarly electable, you're drinking Kool-Aid, not tea

Some have lashed out at me and other journalists for pointing out that O'Donnell is not electable. One prominent blogger called me a “conservative in name only.” Jeffrey Lord at the American Spectator accused several journalists National Review and Wall Street Journal editorial page of promoting the “Ruling Class agenda” by commenting on O'Donnell's foibles.

And it's disappointing that conservative standard-bearers former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin and Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., have endorsed O'Donnell.

Actually winning elections is a much more noble goal than thumbing your nose at the moderate GOP establishment, however warranted it seems. And encouraging conservatives to ask “What would Bill Buckley do?” is never bad advice.

Mark Hemingway is an editorial page staff writer for The Examiner. He can be reached at mhemingway@washingtonexaminer.com.

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